Science fiction and fantasy                                            

Magic: An Anthology Of The Esoteric And Arcane

edited by Jonathan Oliver


Magic is quite a broad theme for a fantasy anthology, when most of the genre includes some element of the sparkly stuff. A few contributors have written stories about stage magicians and other sleight of hand artists. Of these, Will Hill's Shuffle is my undoubted favourite. It's an understated and snappy story about a card sharp compulsively gambling, though he's also seeking some kind of atonement. The narrative shuffles back and forth in time, gradually revealing the full horror.

Alison Littlewood's The Act Of Escapology deals with the need to believe, as a young boy visits the circus and is initially disappointed when he realises the show isn't real. But when the spirit of Houdini gets loose the question becomes, how can they escape the escapologist?

One thing I particularly like about the stories in this anthology is the way they treat magic as costly and dangerous for the user. In Bottom Line by Lou Morgan it's a life-shortening addiction. I loved the punchiness of this one, which focuses on the moment of clarity before the main character decides what will happen with his life. In Domestic Magic by Steve Rasnic Tem and Melanie Tem, magic is very much an affliction. It's told from the point of view of Felix, a young boy who watches his scatty, crazy mother neglect him and his younger sister as a result of her unconventional views. It's a succinct story with very identifiable characters, and in some ways the magic is superfluous. It could have been about a regular mentally ill mother, and it would still have been a great story.

In First And Last And Always a teenager has an obsessive crush on a musician. But things get out of hand when she tries to use a spell to bind him closer to her. Thana Niveau's story is a cautionary tale about being careful what you wish for. Christopher Fowler's The Baby takes a similar theme, and this time a teenage girl, Sasha, is the lone underage groupie of a faded rock band. The thing that offended me about this story was Sasha describing her virginity as "the most precious thing she owned". The character attended a convent school, which goes some way towards explaining why she might repeat this obscene propaganda, and I think offence is the intended reaction to that part. The guilt she feels, and her family's reaction to events, seem both unfair and believable. It's a grimy story with a good twist.

Storm Constantine's Do As Thou Wilt also deals with men who mistreat women. Brett is a soul-sucking philanderer, and the magic-using Leah is one of his former victims. This is a beautifully observed story, and even as we sympathise with Leah it's clear she's still tormented by doubts and hoodwinked by his lies in some ways. His latest victime "fell into love, like someone falling into a vat of acid." I was really rooting for the women in this story, and although the ending is a touch ambiguous, the subtext couldn't be clearer.

Mailer Daemon is a story I enjoyed for its amusing depictions of Jobcentre humiliations, amongst other aspects. Grace is a programmer who is having disruptive nightmares when she borrows a demon from a friend who she only knows through the internet. A t first she doesn't believe the demon is anything other than a figment of her friend's imagination. I liked the way this ended without being too explicit, but with just enough information to make my spine tingle.

Gail Z. Martin's Buttons is a story about a pair of supernatural detectives who work in an antiques shop and use objects to learn about the past. They also have a sideline in discovering and disposing of objects with sinister magical auras. This is a suspenseful, action-packed tale, but it's clearly part of a longer series rather than a complete short story in its own right.

On the whole Magic is an interesting anthology. There were a few stories I wasn't blown away by, but overall I found the quality good to great, with lots of variety in the way the authors have interpreted the theme.

18th November 2013

Book Details

Year: 2012

Categories: Books


If you like this, try:

Dark Currents cover    

Dark Currents by Ian Whates
This anthology of speculative fiction features stories on a theme of dark currents, whether they are electrical, nautical, or something else entirely.

Sleepless cover    

Sleepless by Lou Morgan
A group of students take a mysterious study drug to help them cheat at their exams. But none of them are prepared for the side effects.

Terror Tales Of The Cotswolds cover    

Terror Tales Of The Cotswolds by Paul Finch
An anthology of creepy stories from the imaginations of Gary McMahon, Alison Littlewood, Reggie Oliver, Simon Clark, Simon Kurt Unsworth, Gary Fry, Ramsey Campbell, and others.

4 star rating

Review ©

Add your thoughts

All comments are pre-moderated. Please do not post spoilers or abusive language.

Name :

Your comments :

Please prove you are human.

Enter the following digits in reverse